The art of politics is learning to walk with your back to the wall, your elbows high, and a smile on your face. It's a survival game played under the glare of lights. If you don't learn that, you're quickly finished. It's damn tough and you can't complain; you just have to take it and give it back. The press wants to get you. The opposition wants to get you. Even some of the bureaucrats want to get you. They all may have an interest in making you look bad and they all have ambitions of their own."
- Jean Chrétien, 1985
Jean Chrétien is a shrewd, although sometimes overtly cautious, Canadian politician who was able to lead the federal Liberal Party to victory in 1993. This is the culmination of a career in the House of Commons stretching back to 1963, including a number of posts as a cabinet minister.
Since being sworn in as Prime Minister, Chrétien has performed what most Canadians would describe as an "adequate job." Unless you're from Alberta. Apparently everyone out here is supposed to hate him. Jean's popularity stems from the fact that he basically sits back and lets the country run itself. He seems to be content to allow Finance Minister Paul Martin, who ran against Chrétien in 1990 for the Liberal Party leadership, to do his job.
This isn't to say that his time in office has been controversy free. The most notable ones would be his decision to break his campaign promise to get rid of the GST, and his handling of the whole APEC incident, where students protesting Indonesia's President Suharto's human rights record were pepper sprayed.
Despite these events, including some evidence of a cover-up by the RCMP over any orders given to them by the Prime Minister's office regarding the APEC incident, Chrétien's popularity has remained fairly high in most sections of the country. Why's that?
It's the economy stupid.
Simply put, Canada seems to be doing well enough on its own. It doesn't need too much interference from the Federal Government, and Chrétien realizes this. He lets it be, and we vote his party in.
Update: Oh yeah. He's not prime minister anymore. The Right Honourable Paul Martin took over for him on December 12, 2003. Yay and such. Oh, and in the 2004 CBC series The Greatest Canadian, Mr. Chrétien was voted to be the 45th greatest Canadian of all time.
Joseph Jacques Jean Chrétien was born on January 11, 1934, in Shawinigan, Quebec. He was the 18!th child of Wellie Chrétien and Marie Boisvert-Chrétien. His father was a paper mill machinist, and also a organizer for the Liberal Party.
He didn't have an easy youth, contracting a case of polio which left him deaf in the right ear, and with a partially paralysed mouth. This combined with the fact that he didn't learn English until after he was elected to parliament in 1963, are the likely causes of his absolutely laughable accent when speaking English. I don't speak French myself, so I don't know if he does that well or not. He doesn't really have a French accent, as the way he speaks seems to be unique to himself.
His father got him involved in politics fairly early, with Jean starting to distribute pamphlets and attend political rallies at the age of 15.
He studied law at Laval University, where again he was involved with the local Liberal club on campus. I'm assuming it was while there that he met Aline Chaine, whom he married in 1957. Since then they've had 3 children, 2 boys and a girl. He graduated and was called before the bar in 1958.
After this, he set up a practice in Shawinigan. He did well, and continued to help out the Liberal Party, and was the principal organizer for the provincial election in 1960 that made Jean Lesage Premier of Quebec.
In 1962 he was made the Director of the Bar of Trois-Rivieres, a position that didn't last all that long. He was asked to run in the St-Maurice-Lafléche riding for the Liberals in the 1963. His main opponent was an incumbent who had won the previous election by 10,000 votes. Chrétien managed to pull off the election, winning by a couple thousand votes.
Jean spent the next two years working hard, and trying to improve his English. In 1965 he was appointed as a parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. In January of 1968 he was appointed Minister of National Revenue by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, but only stayed there until the election in June, after which he was appointed the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
He stayed in that position, establishing 10 new national parks and an office to handle native land claims, until right after the 1974 election, when he was appointed President of the Treasury Board of Canada.
Two years later, served a brief (367 days) stint as the Minister for Industry, Trade, and Commerce. In 1977 he got a promotion to Minister of Finance, where he stayed till 1980.
At that time he became Justice Minister and Canada's Attorney General. He was also responsible for the "No" campaign for the 1980 Quebec separation referendum, when the vote went 60% No. I'm pretty sure that Trudeau was quite pleased to not lose the province.
Chrétien was also put in charge of constitutional negotiations. A fairly tough job there. He was the one who drafted up the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and helped Trudeau organize the repatriation of the constitution.
Pierre Trudeau resigned in 1984, leaving the leadership of the Liberal Party up for grabs. Chrétien wanted it, but so did John Turner. John got what he wanted. Jean didn't. Jean spent two years as Deputy Prime Minister before resigning in 1986 and returning to his law practice.
Turner left politics in 1990, after having lost the last two elections. Jean decided to throw himself back into the fray, winning the leadership of the Liberal Party, and a by-election in Beauséjour, New Brunswick. He became the head of the Official Opposition, across the floor of the Common's from Brian Mulroney's Tories.
Fast forward to 1993. Mulroney resigned, leaving Kim Campbell as Canada's first female Prime Minister. Election time. Jean's Liberals vrs. Kim's Progressive Conservatives. And the Liberals blew the Tories out of the water. Jean Chrétien was sworn in as the Prime Minister at the head of a majority government with 176 Seats (out of 301). The Tories were left with 2.
Of course, this likely had more to do with backlash against the Progressive Conservatives, due to their association with the wildly unpopular Mulroney, than any groundswell of support for Jean Chrétien and his Liberal Party.
Since then, Jean hasn't really done anything. Oh, sure, there's been a few incidents that are embarrassing and such, but he hasn't made any major policy changes, and pretty much the only controversial law passed is the mandatory gun registration act.
The only real major event was the 1995 referendum on Quebec Separation. The "No" side won once again, however this time it was only by a few thousand votes. The Prime Minister drew a fair amount of flack for that close call. Thankfully, it seems that in past years the support for separation has waned a great deal.
Of course, he could if he wanted to. Checks? Balances? Who needs em! In Canadian politics, if an MP votes against what the party leaders wish on a matter of any importance, they'll usually get kicked out of the party. They don't want that to happen, because it usually means they'd lose their job come next election. So, as a result, a Canadian Prime Minister with a majority government is pretty much the closest thing to a dictator that you can get in a developed nation. Cool, huh?
I could have a number of anecdotes about those embarrassing situations referred to earlier. I'll only give ya two.
In 1995 Andre Dallaire, a slightly unbalanced individual, decided he wanted to have a chat with the PM about something. So, he snuck on down to 24 Sussex Drive (the Official Residence of the Prime Minister) and scaled a pair of fences in the middle of the night, without being seen by security. Getting into the house via an unlocked window, he made his way to Jean and Aline's bedroom. Aline heard him, and got up, grabbing an Inuit carving to protect herself, slamming the door on him and locking it. She tried to wake up Jean, but he thought it was so absurd that it must be a dream. It still took several minutes for the RCMP to show up.
1996, Flag Day. The Prime Minister's walking through Hull, Quebec. There's some anti-poverty protesters who confront him and those with him. One of them, Bill Clennett, gets in Jean's face. So, Jean does what a lot of people would probably do. Grabs the guy by the throat and shoves him to the ground. The "Shawinigan Handshake" earned Mr. Clennett a broken tooth. The repairs were paid for by the RCMP.
You know, I'm starting to think this guy needs some more security personnel.
Other random stuff about Jean Chrétien:
- He's horrid with names.
- He has a number of honourary degrees, the first coming to him in 1981 from Wilfred Laurier University
- He is described as being very impatient, with stuff like minor details, and with a lot of the pomp and ceremony that comes with the job.
- He's inept with most forms of technology, ranging from VCRs to computers to phones with too many buttons.
Ok, Jean seems to be going a bit loopy. Some of his ministers have been having a few minor scandals, giving contracts to ex-girlfriends, losing money, stuff that's not really all that important, but looks bad.
So, Jean fired a few of them, shuffling the cabinet around a bit.
He then decided that people campaigning for the leadership of the Liberal Party might be distracting Minister's from their jobs. So he told them to stop.
Paul Martin didn't like that. So Jean fired him.
Now, pretty much everyone in the country assumed that Martin was going to become Prime Minister once Jean retired. Now, it looks like that might happen a bit sooner, as the number seem to be thinking that it's quite stupid to fire the Finance Minister over a personal difference, when the Economy is going well and he's one of the few Ministers who looks like he's doing his job well and people might trust.
Well, Martin was fired for not wanting to give up his leadership campaign. Well, he's doing a lot better in it than he was before he was replaced. Not just in polls from various Canadians, but also among Liberal MP's.
I believe the Liberal Leadership vote is in February. Now, he's actually got a fight on his hands.
Update: August 22, 2002: Apparently he said he's going to retire in 18 months. Some people think that this is enough to screw up Martin's chances of ever being PM, personally I think he'll still win the leadership review. We'll see.
Update: October 9, 2003: Jean seems to have made it his goal before he retires to make the marriage of homosexuals legal in Canada. His legacy if you will. He's also pushing to decriminalize the possesion of weed. Needless to say, this has pissed off quite a number of people. Oh well, too bad.
Update: December 2004: A bit late, but he didn't manage to get it done before he was pushed out of office. That having been said, the main barrier to the issue of gay marriage in Canada was a question of if the Federal Government or the Provincial Governments had Jurisdiction, and if enacting such legislation would lead to religions being forced to perform marriages against their will. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled it was entirely in the Federal jurisdiction, and that churches could not be forced to marry gay people. So, it looks like the path is clear, and Prime Minister Paul Martin will be the one to get the credit. Sorry Jean.
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